EXACTLY three years ago, I visited for the first time this old Japanese lighthouse at the Navy Hill and was impressed about the sturdy structure which has played an important role in history, albeit its neglected state.
I grabbed the chance revisit the lighthouse on Tuesday with a friend who, having just returned to Saipan after being away for five years, immediately got busy shooting photos of the setting sun from the second level of the lighthouse. Somehow, I was not interested in the sunset because things caught my interest. I waded my way through the piles of empty beer and soda cans and bottles and hordes of other food wrappings to the top of the lighthouse approximately 50 feet up.
I remember seeing the walls then bathed in graffiti and resembled a freedom wall where a penmanship competition was held and everybody wrote anything using black markers—a sad fate for this helpless structure which could have been one of the best tourist destinations in the island.
The view from up there was as spectacular as I remember it, with the setting sun providing a wonderful backdrop to the whole area of Garapan.
But the artists have been at work again—this time upgrading themselves with a vengeance by painting the walls with huge letters and figures using colored paint. Not an inch of space escaped the hands of the vandals who even had the guts to climb to the circular wall and scribble nonsense for the world to see.
Earlier efforts to preserve this historical place which has been one of the sites in the CNMI that were accepted to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974 proved futile. Concerned groups such as the Beautify CNMI and volunteers polled their efforts in repainting the lighthouse and erasing the graffiti on the walls from time to time, but it was like a cat and mouse game. As soon as the cleaners are done with their job, the vandals get back to work.
The wind was blowing stronger and dusk was settling in when I descended, this time fishing my small flashlight to see my way down the flight of dark and slippery stairs.
Records show that the lighthouse which was constructed in 1934 to guide Japanese ships arriving in the harbor was abandoned after the U.S. Navy pulled out of Saipan in 1947.
Despite the tall bushes and thick shrubs that threatened to engulf the whole structure, the place still maintains its power to lure visitors to come up and challenge the slippery and dank stairs, the piles of trash.
The lighthouse survived World War 11 and withstood years of exposure to the harsh element, but not against the scum artists who seem to find joy in scribbling nonsense in the walls and destroying one of the best tourist destinations in the island.